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Christmas Mass celebrated in a liberated Mosul

MOSUL (CNS): In a display of unity, both Christians and Muslims attended the first Christmas Mass to be celebrated in Mosul in three-and-a-half years at St. Paul Cathedral, following the city’s liberation from Islamic State militants.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, from Baghdad, urged the faithful to pray for “peace and stability to reign in Mosul, Iraq and the world.”
He addressed “our brothers the Muslims” saying, “I ask them to change their way of thinking; you should know Christianity better. In the past, Christians were the majority in Iraq; today we are minority, but without us, Mosul will never be the same.”
He urged displaced Christians to return home and participate in the city’s reconstruction.
“They are not going back because their houses are destroyed or burned, but the Church is restoring all of the houses,” Patriarch Sako said. “We are hopeful that many, many Christians will be back.”
Islamic State militants seized and terrorised Mosul and the surrounding areas in 2014, sending most of its Christian population of 200,000 to flee. 
The militants threatened the Christians, telling them to convert to Islam, pay protection tax, die or flee.
However in July last year, Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the expulsion of the Islamic State from Mosul after a fierce, nine-month military campaign.
The militants reportedly used St. Paul Cathedral as a prison and the damaged interior walls exhibit some of the destruction.
“With this celebration, we tell them that residents of Mosul are all brothers, whatever their religion or ethnicity, and despite all the damage and suffering,” one Christian, Farqad Malko, said of the message to the militants.
Meanwhile, in the town of Telaskov on the Nineveh Plain, Christians celebrated Christmas by gathering for Mass at the newly renovated Church of St. George where children dressed in Santa Claus costumes sang Jingle Bells in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

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